RIP: Johnny Grande, original piano player for Bill Haley’s Comets

Johnny Grande, photo by Chet Helms

I just learned that Johnny Grande, an original member of Bill Haley’s Comets, died recently. I had the privilege of working with Johnny when I was hired a few years ago to produce a video of a Comets concert in San Francisco. As a matter of fact, tonight I was preparing to work on editing the final program for a DVD release when I learned that Johnny was no longer a member of the living.

Johnny first joined Bill Haley’s band in 1949, back when it was known as “the Saddlemen.” He was an original member of Bill Haley and the Comets, and played with the band until 1963. Johnny not only played piano and accordian with the band, but also handled some of the arrangements, as he was one of the few members that could actually read music.

For many people including John Lennon of the Beatles, “Rock Around the Clock” was the quintesential song that started the rock and roll revolution. “Rock Around the Clock” was the first rock and roll recording to hit the top of the American record charts. Johnny was there when history was made, recording the song that changed a lot of people’s lives.

In 1987, Johnny participated in a reunion of original Comets that included Marshall Lytle (bass), Joey Ambrose (sax), Dick Richards (drums), and Franny Beecher (guitar). After receiving an enthusiastic reception for this music, the band turned this one-shot performance into a full-time career, touring all over the world to eager audiences. In 2006, the Comets joined Paul Revere & the Raiders and Bill Medley to become the first bands to perform at the new Dick Clark American Bandstand Theatre in Branson, Missouri.

Johnny died at the age of 76 on June 3 at his home in Clarksville, Tennessee.

For more information about Johnny and the Original Comets, be sure to check out:

The official webpage for the Original Comets
Marshall Lytle’s Comets webpage
The Wiki-pedia entry on Bill Haley’s Comets
The Wiki-pedia entry for Johnny Grande
Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution, a superb book by my friend Jim Dawson
Chet Helms‘ photos of the concert that will soon be available as a DVD (featuring a few photos of yours truly)

We’re going to miss you, Johnny.

Eric Predoehl, producer/director of upcoming Comets DVD release, as well as MEANING OF LOUIE documentary

POST-NOTE: It’s ironic that Johnny had to be the third rock piano player to pass away in the same week that also included the demise of Billy Preston (June 6) and Vince Welnick (June 2). I don’t know what to think about that…..

5 comments to RIP: Johnny Grande, original piano player for Bill Haley’s Comets

  • Bonnie Burrow

    I was lucky to catch the Comets on their tour of Southern California on the 50th anniversary of the day Rock Around the Clock went to #1. On July 6, 2005, they put their handprints into cement at the Guitar Center on Sunset Blvd, and then they did an impropmtu concert in the music store’s back storeroom. They performed some of their biggest hits, clearly thrilling the workers, the press, and the rest of us with an energetic performance that we will never forget. I felt honored to be a part of the historical event. If that weren’t enough, they rocked the Viper Room that night, singing about 20 of their songs, and inviting Bill Haley’s daughter to join them on stage. Frannie Beecher’s guitar solo wowed even the very young adults in the audience.
    At four of their appearances over a two day period, I found them to be regular guys — open and accessible to fans they’d just met. I joked with them about owing them a prize from a dance contest I won to Rock Around the Clock in 1973, but they said they’d call it even if I helped them finish their french fries during their stop at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. I had expected that guys who had been perfoming the same music for 50 years might be a little weary of it, but in their performances at the Guitar Center and at the Viper Room they showed nothing but the energy and fun that is rock and roll. These men are rock and roll pioneers, and I, for one, will always be grateful for their contributions to my life and to rock and roll. Johnny Grande will be missed.

  • marjorie

    thank u so much for honoring my grandfather on your page

  • Kids presents

    I have been searching online for this information and I have only found confusing and poorly written articles until now. This is the best and easiest to understand article on this topic I have found.

  • ppi claims

    More often that not I read articles where the writer has not proofread their content. You either have a proofreader or you do it yourself because I couldn’t find a mistake in it. Great information.

  • destiny

    thats my grandfather he was the bestest grand father ever im destiny crist

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